Ex Cathedra is renowned for seeking out the unexpected, and this new disc is no exception, featuring the first performance for some three hundred years of fifteen Latin motets by Martin Peerson (c1572-1651).
Whilst not a familiar name now, Peerson had a considerable quantity of music printed and published in his day. The 1604 Royal May Day celebrations – the ‘Proms in the Park’ of their day – headlined with a Peerson madrigal, and his career can be traced through posts at Westminster Abbey and St Paul’s Cathedral. Today little remains, and these fifteen Latin motets survive in a single, incomplete source. Their performance here is possible thanks to a pioneering reconstruction, by Richard Rastall of Antico Edition, of the missing voice part.
Despite their pre-Reformation Latin texts (at a time when few institutions permitted such Popery) and Peerson’s 1606 conviction for recusancy, the composer’s evident position at the heart of the new Anglican establishment confirms the overall esteem in which he was held.
The music more than lives up to this reputation: harmonies of sustained intensity and an intricate understanding of the contemporary imitative technique lend the collection a rare cohesion, and give testimony to a man of immense compassion and faith.
‘This recording is one of the most exciting discs of Renaissance sacred music to have appeared in recent years … These fine motets show that he was a highly accomplished composer of choral polyphony with a strongly individual flavour, which uses imaginatively understated means to pack a considerable emotional punch.’ (The Daily Telegraph)
‘Jeffrey Skidmore’s reading pushes the unique structure of Peerson’s paragraphs into the foreground: large-scale dynamic contouring, leisurely tempos and subtle shifts in balance creates a spacious framework in which the composer’s large structures emerge. The Ex Cathedra Consort triumphs beautifully over the vocal challenges of this music with its pellucid upper voices, restrained yet robust basses, and attention to textual detail … this reconstruction of Peerson, enhanced by excellent sound engineering, manages to reveal a master at work.’ (BBC Music Magazine)
‘Tuning, balance, and ensemble are all excellent, and Peerson’s often complex, even convoluted polyphony emerges with a commendable clarity that is a tribute to both director and singers. Add to that Hyperion’s customary outstanding engineering, and you have a splendid disc of unusual repertoire that fully deserves widespread attention and success.’ (Fanfare, USA)
‘This recording … affords us what we may assume is a good overview of the works of a skilled composer, who clearly absorbed a range of influences but was not afraid to put his own personal mark on his music, and as such is an uncommon treat.’ (International Record Review)
‘The performances are shapely and expressive, leaving nothing to be desired in technical polish. Connoisseurs will rejoice to have this rare music brought to life for all to hear.’ (American Record Guide)
‘For all their comparative youthfulness, these are mature voices in the ECC, complemented by agile and well-controlled technique. As is typical with Skidmore-directed performances, the Latin is shaded with pronunciation coloured with the country’s local accent … just one example of these performers’ thoughtful preparation and response.’ (The Birmingham Post)